30 nov 2011

Morton Feldman

Here is the second poem I have written this morning. This too, is unlike anything I have ever written, though it bears some relation to "Page of Prose" and "The Complete Sentence Game."

This is a poem called "Morton Feldman." I hope you like it. My original plan was to write a series of poems using titles from Feldman's music, like "Rothko Chapel," "For Frank O'Hara," "The Viola in My Life," or "Crippled Symmetries." I would use these titles and write to his music. But how could I write to his music? Dancing to music I understand, although I do not do it well. There is a relation between the musical pulse and the movement of feet and body. Most people understand this relationship. Writing to music is something different from that. I could write about the music, I suppose, but what would be the point of that? Assuming I have something to say about this music, I would probably not use a poem to say it. This poem least of all. So in place of the series of poems written to titles of Feldman's music, I have written this explanation of how I could not write these poems.

I hope you have enjoyed my poem "Morton Feldman."

Frank O'Hara and Me

Here is a poem I composed in my head as I was trying to get out of bed this morning. Once I showered and shaved and dressed, I wrote it down in this blog post. It is unlike any poem I have ever written.
Frank O'Hara and Me

I have outlived Frank O'Hara by eleven years,
Lorca by thirteen.
Spicer, too, dead at forty.
Fiercely devoted to them, I am unlike them,
less talent, drinking less, not gay,
with a daughter who plays Mahler.
Their work flows through me
like Mahler through Julia's trumpet,
"the inexorable product of my own time"?
A time that is also mine.

29 nov 2011


I went to a reading the other night in which a woman read a short-story in an invariant voice. It wasn't technically a monotone because there was some variation of pitch, but it was the same variation of pitch and the same tempo throughout. Every sentence got equal weight. It was deadly.

The other reader seemed to go on too long reading his undistinguished poetry. I don't think you should use the phrase "in terms of" in a poem unless you are being ironically prosy in a John Ashbery mode. I don't think you should introduce a poem by saying that it is going to go over the audience's head. I don't even think he meant that to be insulting.

I guess I don't really like readings that much aside from the social aspect. Egoistically, I like reading myself rather than listening to other people, unless they are actually better writers and readers than I am.

I often record myself and listen critically to what I hear. I have a tendency to drop words and to fall into a predictable intonational pattern, among other numerous flaws. I am not saying that I am the perfect reader, but I am still a whole lot better than a lot of readers I hear.

25 nov 2011

My Book For Free

Here is a link for the open access version of my "other" book.

Of course, I was staring at the page for ten minutes trying to figure out how to download the book before I realized that I had to click on the PDF reader icon.

17 nov 2011

300 Pounds

My book, not my book on Lorca but my other book, will be available on an open access site at something called JISC in the UK. This is good for me, since I get a small sum of money and also get more readers for my book, which was priced out of the range of any normal academic. I'll let you know when it's up there.

The good thing is that this book was overshadowed by my Lorca book, so this allows the playing field to be leveled a bit. Even in my own mind, I was not giving myself as much credit for this book, which included some really kick-ass studies of contemporary Spanish poetry. Simply because the same year I kicked a little more ass in another book.

Critical Thinking Exercise

This post from a while back had me thinking about a common statistic reported in the media and on blogs about the life-expectancy of former NFL players and the danger of getting decaf[?] espresso in the late afternoon.

Studies have shown that 80.4% of of statistics are highly misleading if not false.

Carbon Free?

There's one kind of expensive Scandinavian notebook I like to use that advertises itself as "carbon free." I wondered at first what the paper was made out of, because I think it's pretty hard to make paper without using some sort of material that has carbon in it. Maybe it was plastic? But isn't that made from petroleum, an organic product too? It didn't seem like the paper was made from rock or glass, or other sorts of mineral or inorganic material.

Of course I realized after a few seconds or minutes that they meant that the paper was produced in a way that didn't burn any carbon-based fuels, not that it didn't contain, itself, any carbon. My literal-mindedness again.

15 nov 2011

Crash Blossoms

Language log sex quiz crash blossom


I thought of a pretty good idea to write an article about kitsch, a concept that has a strategic place in the title of my book Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch, but that requires further development.

The elements of kitsch are secondhandness, but also a nostalgia for origins. Take the tin-pan alley song "The Birth of the Blues." It is not a blues song itself, but a pop song in another form that is about the blues. Specifically, about its origin or birth:
Oh, they say some people long ago
Were searching for a diffrent tune
One that they could croon
As only they can

They only had the rhythm
They started swaying to and fro
They didn't know just what to use
That is how the blues really began

They heard the breeze in the trees
Singing weird melodies
And they made that the start, the start of the blues

And from a jail came the wail
Of a down-hearted frail
And they played that
As part of the blues

From a whippoorwill
Way up on a hill
They took a new note
Pushed it through a horn
Until it was worn
Into a blue note

And then they nursed it
They rehearsed it
And then sent out that news
That the Southland gave birth to the blues

The secondhandness and the evocation of origins are in tension. The endless repetition of the song, the numerous versions by Sinatra, Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr, and Crosby, add layers of kitschiness to it. There are other non-blues songs about the blues, like "Lady Sings the Blues" and "Blues in the Night," or maybe even "Mood Indigo."

That's an easily identifiable case. But what about a real blues song that becomes kitschified? Or what if there is no origin there at all? The search for origins itself gives rise to secondhandness. What if Lorca is already kitsch, and the kitschification of him is simply a logical next step?

To condemn kitsch is to commit oneself to some notion of the non-kitsch, the authentic, yet the search for the authentic is already part of the mechanism of kitsch. I feel I'm reinventing deconstruction here. You know, one of those aporias.

Even though it's misinterpretation, mistranslation all the way down, I still feel that there is an aesthetic judgment to be made. Some aesthetic appropriations breathe new life into the original material. Mingus's music, for example ("Better get hit in your soul"). Some of Ellington's reinterpretation of folkloric materials.

Whenever you feel embarrassment, or that something is in "bad taste," then something interesting is going on. I find the lyrics to "The Birth of the Blues" intensely distasteful.

So my essay would have two parts, one on Lorca and one on jazz. I plan to make this my traveling piece, so I could give it various places where I am invited to speak, Iowa and Belfast for example.

8 nov 2011

The Complete Sentence Game

It occurs to me that The Complete Sentence Game could be an entire book, at least of chap-book length. I tend to think in terms of short, chap-book works of poetry, like The Thelonious Monk Fake Book. Maybe 20-30 pages. Aren't those much more readable than the typical 60 pages format for a book of verse? What perverse publisher or tenure committee thought that one up?

7 nov 2011

Pop Art?


I spent all of Saturday at the Ken Irby celebration. Pierre Joris, Lyn Hejinian, and Ben Friedlander flew in for it, giving talks about Ken's work, along with local luminaries Denise Low and Joe Harrington. Megan Kaminsky and Billy Joe Harris did the emceeing and organizing. The five poets (Lyn, Pierre, Ben, Denise, Joe) also gave a reading, and Ken himself gave a masterful performance to conclude the daytime events. Then we went out to eat and finally had a reception at Billy joe and Susan's house. My role in the celebration was minimal, as the designated introducer of Pierre Joris. It was great for me to be able to meet Lyn Hejinian and Ben Friedlander in person as well.

When I arrived at Kansas more than 15 years ago, Ken Irby was not even on the tenure track. Inexplicably, I did not even meet him until I had been here a few years and decided to organize the poetics seminar. Now he is being promoted, very belatedly, to full professor at the age of 75.

Ken told me he liked my reading the other night. This was great (for me), because Ken is a wonderful reader of poetry, one of the best I've ever heard in person. In fact, I'm trying to think if I know of anyone who reads poetry any better than that. I am listenable, but not in that league at all.

3 nov 2011


In class yesterday we talked about ur-proverbs. The students had never seen the prefix ur- so that took a while to explain.

An ur-proverb would be a sort of "proverb-behind-the-proverb." We came up with several:

The individual is defined by the social group with which s/he is identified.

Life is unfair. Powerful people will have their way.

Older people are wiser.

Pragmatic intelligence (shrewdness) is extremely valuable.

People behave in predictable ways.


I was walking down the street and a woman approached me and said: "you have a good chance of getting the violoncello seat in the orchestra now. There has been a lot of attrition." I tried to tell her I didn't play the cello. She had confused me with someone else.

2 nov 2011


The flarf orchestra has landed.

Jackie McLean

Jackie McLean is perhaps the major saxophonist I know the least. I can situate him somewhere close to Cannonball Adderley or Art Pepper, with those long flowing phrases. He has a distinctive sound. For whatever reason, I haven't made a concerted study of his work yet. Now I'm able to do so because I have the spotify service on my computer.

1 nov 2011

Not My Musics

Disco, Country and Western, rancheras (or Mexican music generally), metal, grand opera, and zarzuela are not my musics. New Age and electronica, trance, etc... are not my music, nor is hip hop. Renaissance music is not to my taste, generally speaking. I despise Dixieland revival music. I don't like folk songs or military marches much.

Within this general category of "not my music," it's obvious that there is some good music that I might even enjoy hypothetically, but I simply have too many musics that I need to be listening to instead. I do use the radio program "Music From the Hearts of Space" as a sleep aid on Sunday night. I set it real low and go to bed at 11, and set my stereo to shut off exactly at 12. This New Age music program is very relaxing, but I don't use it for listening purposes.